Anna Purcell is the first female candidate to announce her intention to run for Nelson city council in this year’s municipal election. The Maplerose store employee and Nelson Civic Theatre volunteer coordinator, who has been living in Nelson for the last six years, told the Star on Wednesday she’s ready for “a heightened sense of engagement in the community.”
“I’m running for council because I’m interested in doing the work. I went to council in the spring kind of hoping it would be boring, so I could dismiss the whole idea, because it is a lot of work. But I found it surprisingly engaging,” said the 42-year-old, who owns a home with her partner.
“Three people are leaving council. It’s a good opportunity for anyone to run.”
Purcell is the fourth non-incumbent to declare intentions of running for council, after Michael Dailly, Charles Jeanes and John Paolozzi. Donna Macdonald, Candace Batycki and Paula Kiss have all decided not to run again, while Mayor John Dooley and councillor Deb Kozak have yet to share their election plans with the Star.
Purcell, who has was born in Nova Scotia, holds degrees in theatre and women’s studies. She spent some time in the professional theatre scene in Toronto before heading west. She’s proud of her alma mater, the Toronto Waldorf School, and made a point of designating herself as a “Waldorf child”.
When asked what her election platform is, Purcell’s answer was succinct: “uplifted pragmatism”.
“Traditionally people have seen the city purview as being water, sewer, taxes and, in our case, police. And those things are important, for sure. But a more modern approach, which we’ve already been adopting, is that even though we don’t run the hospital or social programs, we can have a real hand in supporting those and other endeavours. We can have an ear for well-researched, well-planned initiatives that come out of the community and advocate for them,” she said.
”People live in Nelson because they love it. It’s already a great place. The challenge is to make it even better.”
Purcell said she’s passionate about innovation and multi-sectoral collaboration, noting that the Nelson Civic Theatre provides a perfect example of how a community can come together for the greater good.
“It might be easier to see interesting collaborations within the realm of the arts, but you don’t have to look far afield to find amazing collaborations in other realms as well,” she said.
For example, Purcell told a story about Saint John, New Brunswick. A group of business owners there in the 1990s collaborated in unique ways to address homelessness and poverty.
“They thought about it and approached it in such a wonderfully business-minded way. Really not the way, at least at that point, that social services sector people were looking at it. They actually hired Deloitte and Touche to do a poverty audit neighbourhood to neighbourhood. They identified five or seven key points, and they rolled up their sleeves and started chipping away at those key points in their own particular fashion to try to destabilize inter-generational cycles of poverty.”
Purcell said they came up with exciting ideas, and ultimately reduced poverty in their city by 40 per cent. She said examples like this of thinking outside the box, of innovation, are what excite her about being involved in municipal politics. But she also likes the idea of following other communities’ positive examples.
“It can be really easy to be an insular thinker, but if you look even closer to home in Revelstoke, they’ve been doing some really interesting things around poverty,” she said. “There’s a lot we can learn from each other and I’m a total research bug. I’m excited to find amazing solutions to issues we have.”
One issue that’s on her mind is access to the water, which is why she’s being paying close attention to the Hall Street corridor project that aims to link downtown to the Kootenay Lake waterfront.
“There are a lot of things I don’t like about the way Kelowna has been designed from an urban planning point of view, but one thing they’ve done very well is create these little parklets along the waterfront and they’re not a big deal, pretty much two trees and a bench, but it’s a way for the public to get to the waterfront to launch their canoes, or swim or just be near the water. It should feel fundamentally like a public space a few lucky individuals are lucky enough to live near,” she said.
She envisions a similar level of accessibility for Nelsonites, noting that Lakeside Park is her favourite place in town.
“I’m not empress of the world, so there’s really a limited amount one councillor and one person can do. But my pie in the sky vision? All park.”
Purcell is also passionate about vulnerable populations, and making sure their voices are heard at the municipal level. She said Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, and champion of an NGO called 8-80, summed up her feelings about communities best.
“He basically said ‘we need to walk like birds need to fly, we need to be around other people, we need beauty, we need contact with nature and most importantly we need to not feel excluded, and have a sense of equality’,” she said.
She said the 8-80 campaign, which aims to improve living conditions for children and the elderly, is a good example of how Nelson could broaden the spectrum of people it serves.
“What does it say about our respect for human dignity that one in five people at our local food bank is a child? Or an old person? That on any given night 50 people sleep outside? Way more people are homeless, crashing on people’s couches. That’s what I mean by vulnerable people, and when I talk about uplifted pragmatism it’s about looking at infrastructure from a different point of view, approaching these similarly intractable issues from a fresh perspective.”